Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Help Someone Cry

One of my New Year's resolutions was to give more time to "A" priority tasks. For those of you who've never studied the art of organization, that refers to a system of ranking "things to do" by letter: "A" for extremely important, "B" for pretty important, "C" for not all that important, and--sometimes--"D" for "not worth doing until all the others are finished." A major irony of life is that "A" priority tasks--those we instinctively recognize as advancing the larger missions God made us for--are often the easiest to put off, while "C" and "D" tasks--vacuuming the floor six times a week, composing detailed responses to every e-mail--are very good at instilling a sense of obligation. Most people, when they first start taking time management seriously, find that their schedules need painful surgery to remove things that seem important but aren't.

All of which is leading up to this announcement: I have concluded that regardless of what business experts recommend, adding new blog entries three to five times a week is not among God's current "A" priorities for my life. So until further notice, installments are being cut back to once a week.

Not that setting priorities is simply a matter of choosing certain physical tasks over others. All masters of time management, be they Christians or otherwise, are sure of "life's purpose" and give top priority to whatever things further that end. Whatever a Christian's specific ministry, his or her "purpose" must be in accord with Jesus's words: "Seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness... 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Mt. 6:33; 22:37-39, NIV).

Strangely, those of us who claim to love God often let "His work" interfere with loving our neighbors. A friend desperately needs an understanding ear--and we brush her off because we're late for church. A first-time volunteer proves a slow learner--and we get impatient with him for spoiling program efficiency. We turn our church work into just another bottom-line business.

Or, if we know we can't "make everything right," we do nothing. Many people, having suffered through traumatic illness, unjust scandal, or loss of loved ones, have had friends appear only after the dust has settled and say, "I wanted to be there for you, but I didn't know what to do!" It's cold comfort. Paul's advice in Rom. 12:15 is much better: "mourn with those who mourn." Don't feel you must solve your friends' problems; don't hand out unrequested advice; don't say "it's all for the best"; and definitely don't tell them how they could have avoided the tragedy in the first place. Just let them know, in action with minimum words, that you feel for them--that you feel with them.

Here as in many other aspects of life, children often understand the godly approach better than adults (see also previous blog entry), as did one little girl who came home half an hour late. She had been delayed, she explained, because a friend's favorite toy had been broken "and I had to stop and help her cry."

Even when a problem is fixable, anyone who is hurting deeply needs human feeling in the solution, not just a mechanical "there, it's all done" approach. Parents understand this when they apply not only antiseptic and bandage, but also a kiss, to small injuries.

And didn't Jesus Himself solve our sin problem through His own suffering?

"Amanda, why were you out so late?"
"Cindy’s dolly broke her eye."
"So you stopped to help Cindy fix it up?"
"No, I stopped to help her cry."

So many of us turn away from pain,
Feeling helpless to even try:
But if we can do nothing to fix things up,
We at least can help someone cry.

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